Na­tional Ge­og­ra­phy

He now has in his hands the map that proves Scar­bor­ough Shoal al­ways be­longed to the Philippines. MEL VE­LARDE, CEO of tech com­pany Now Cor­po­ra­tion, talks about the map’s jour­ney from Hog­warts to The Hague, and now fi­nally home.

Esquire (Philippines) - - THIS WAY IN - In­ter­view by Au­drey N. Car­pio Pho­to­graphs by Jil­son Tiu

How the “mother of Philip­pine maps” found its way home.

How did a map of the Philippines end up in some dank English cas­tle? In 1762, the Bri­tish oc­cu­pied Manila, fol­low­ing their vic­tory over Span­ish forces in the Bat­tle of Manila. When Manila fell on Oc­to­ber 6, 1762, Bri­tish sol­diers pil­laged (and raped, razed, and plun­dered) the city for 40 hours. One of the looted ar­ti­facts, taken by Brigadier Gen­eral Wil­liam Draper, was a set of eight cop­per­plates of the 1734 Pe­dro Murillo Ve­larde map, the most com­pre­hen­sive map of the ar­chi­pel­ago at the time. (Fr. Murillo Ve­larde was the Je­suit priest and poly­math who de­signed the map, also known as Carta

hy­dro­graph­ica y choro­graph­ica de las Is­las Filip­inas, but it was drawn and en­graved by the skilled Filipino ar­ti­sans Fran­cisco Suarez and Ni­co­las de la Cruz Ba­gay.)

Draper do­nated the cop­per­plates to Cam­bridge Univer­sity, which ran new prints of the map. Later, the Bri­tish melted the cop­per­plates when they needed cop­per to print their ad­mi­ralty charts. One of these prints was then ac­quired by the Duke of Northum­ber­land, who kept the map for over two hun­dred years, un­til it was un­earthed af­ter the flood, put to the auc­tion ham­mer and won over the phone by a Filipino IT en­tre­pre­neur named Mel Ve­larde (no ap­par­ent re­la­tion to Pe­dro) in 2014. The Supreme Court Jus­tice An­to­nio Car­pio had en­cour­aged Ve­larde to ac­quire it for the good of the na­tion, af­ter sev­eral mu­se­ums he first ap­proached said they couldn’t af­ford the pricey ar­ti­fact.

The “Mother of all Philip­pine Maps” ar­rived in the coun­try on April 28, nearly three years af­ter it was auc­tioned off. Esquire emailed Mel Ve­larde to talk about the map, which he is do­nat­ing to the Na­tional Mu­seum.

ESQUIRE: What does it feel like to fi­nally bring the Murillo Ve­larde map home?

MEL VE­LARDE: Ju­bi­la­tion and re­lief. The sign­ing of the deed of do­na­tion with the So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral Jose Cal­ida last April 21, 2017, and the sub­se­quent col­lec­tion of the map from Sotheby’s Lon­don, handed to me per­son­ally and to the As­sis­tant So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral (Usec. Henry An­ge­les) last April 28, 2017, marked the cul­mi­na­tion of a jour­ney that started on Novem­ber 4, 2014. On that day of the auc­tion, I had a mis­sion: to par­tic­i­pate in the auc­tion of this map by Sotheby’s Lon­don, to win the auc­tion and bring that map back to the Philippines. I em­brace this whole jour­ney as a per­sonal civic duty; as this jour­ney cul­mi­nates, I have ju­bi­la­tion in my heart, and tri­umph in my mind. Re­lief, too, be­cause the 1734 Murillo Ve­larde map has fi­nally ar­rived in the Philippines, and will be for­mally turned over to the govern­ment on June 12, 2017.

ESQ: The map took al­most three years to make its way here af­ter it was won at auc­tion. Can you tell us what has been hap­pen­ing since then, and why it had been de­cided to bring in the map at this time?

MV: While the case at UNCLOS was on­go­ing, keep­ing the map at Sotheby’s Lon­don would be con­ve­nient if in case—for what­ever rea­son—it is needed. When UNCLOS re­leased its de­ci­sion in July last year, we be­gan the process of its even­tual trans­port to the Philippines in­clud­ing, among oth­ers, the sign­ing of a deed of do­na­tion, the phys­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion of the map by the Na­tional Mu­seum team of ex­perts, the securing of ex­port li­cense from the UK govern­ment, and the ac­tual phys­i­cal col­lec­tion of the map by me and the of­fi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Philip­pine govern­ment.

ESQ: Did the map play any part in the ar­bi­tra­tion hear­ings at The Hague?

MV: The 1734 Murillo Ve­larde map as his­toric ar­ti­fact was cited in the Philip­pine com­plaint against China at UNCLOS. There are very few copies of this map in the world to­day—you can count them on one hand. Prob­lem was the Filipino peo­ple, through their govern­ment, never owned a sin­gle copy of this map. I was told it would be of enor­mous value that we as a peo­ple would own a copy of this map for cur­rent and fu­ture con­cerns.

ESQ: You were en­gaged in a bid­ding war that brought up the price of the map up to P12 mil­lion. What went on in your mind? Who were the other bid­ders?

MV: The floor price was about P1.5 mil­lion. At most, we cal­cu­lated that this could dou­ble or even reach four mil­lion pe­sos to con­clude the auc­tion. There were a num­ber of bid­ders who just in­creased what­ever price I gave; I just heard their voices over the tele­phone and I won­dered what busi­ness they had with this map. So fu­ri­ous was the bid­ding that I felt I was buying a com­pany with valu­able and quan­tifi­able as­sets. Later on I found out there was a Filipino con­glom­er­ate that par­tic­i­pated, and some Asian in­di­vid­u­als par­tic­i­pated as well.

Be­cause the map’s value could not be quan­ti­fied at that mo­ment, I re­al­ized it is pre­cisely not quan­tifi­able be­cause its value is in­cal­cu­la­ble. Af­ter the four mil­lion peso ceil­ing was breached dur­ing the bid­ding, the dom­i­nant thing in my mind was to win; I felt there was a larger con­sid­er­a­tion in this whole ex­er­cise where my per­sonal role was but a foot­note. In my mind, I was re­minded of sol­diers ready to die for our coun­try. It’s a long shot, and quite a stretch of imag­i­na­tion, to think that a map could prevent them from dy­ing or get­ting into war, but I’d take that shot any day, none­the­less; so I did.

So many other things were in my mind: the map be­ing the one true land ti­tle of ev­ery Filipino; it be­ing his­toric ar­ti­fact; an ev­i­dence of our his­toric rights; a source of nar­ra­tive for our youth to love our coun­try; an em­bod­i­ment of our ma­te­rial be­ing as a na­tion, so on

and on, so many other things came into my mind un­til the price reached al­most P13 mil­lion. Voila! I won the bid­ding for the mother of all Philip­pine maps. I knew right then and there, she was not mine to keep. My role was to re­turn her to the peo­ple, to whom she right­fully be­longs. In short, just to bring her back home.

ESQ: Aside from the fact that Pana­cot (Scar­bor­ough Shoal) is shown to be part of the Philippines, what else can we learn from this cen­turies-old map?

MV: Spratlys is shown there as Los Ba­jos de Paragua. The su­perb artis­tic creations through draw­ings of the twelve vi­gnettes that de­pict a high qual­ity, ad­vanced and in­clu­sive way of life of peo­ple in the ar­chi­pel­ago: show­ing Filipino men and women work­ing in the farm that rep­re­sents self-re­liance, fam­ily unity and sus­tain­able liveli­hood; show­ing Ar­me­nian, Chi­nese, Ja­panese, Span­ish, Moguls freely in­ter­act­ing with the in­dios; men and women from var­i­ous eco­nomic classes, from top to bot­tom, en­gag­ing with each other in pub­lic sites, with free­dom, mu­tual trust and peace; the modern urban plan­ning and de­sign shown in the ci­ties Manila and Zam­boanga, that iden­ti­fied the pub­lic sites, the church lo­ca­tion, the foun­tains of fresh wa­ter flow­ing through the com­mu­nity, the house of the gov­er­nor, etcetera, etcetera— all show­ing el­e­ments of fa­cil­i­ties and com­forts sim­i­lar to the best ur­ban­ized ci­ties in Spain and other parts of Europe; A new route for the Span­ish ships, sug­gested by Fr. Murillo Ve­larde, sailing north­ward from Palawan to the tip of Lu­zon and turn­ing east­ward to reach Mex­ico, an al­ter­na­tive route to the usual wind­ing cruise through the Visayan seas where said ships were vul­ner­a­ble to pi­rate at­tacks.

There are al­most 900 ci­ties and towns iden­ti­fied in the map, which Filipinos of to­day [can rec­og­nize], since most of the [towns’] names have re­mained the same, and their lo­ca­tions are sur­pris­ingly ac­cu­rate, in­clud­ing the mark­ers for moun­tains, seas, lakes, trees, etc.

Be­tween the is­lands of Palawan and Min­danao, a large medal­lion is drawn on the map and in­side it is an enu­mer­a­tion of the ma­jor re­sources such as an­i­mals and plants, fruits and min­er­als, and all other na­ture’s boun­ties—each iden­ti­fied in par­tic­u­lar—all in­tended to high­light the rich­ness and di­ver­sity of the re­sources in the ar­chi­pel­ago. I call this the wealth medal­lion that is on the map.

I can go on and on, and we will never fin­ish!

ESQ: De­spite hav­ing won the Hague rul­ing, the Philippines is no closer to tak­ing back our is­lands. Per­haps we should send a copy of the map to the Chi­nese em­bassy?

MV: That’s one. But se­ri­ously, it took more than eighty years be­fore China took those is­lands from us. As early as in the mid 1930s, Chi­nese naval teams started plant­ing fake mark­ers bear­ing dates as early as 1900. Post-World War II Chi­nese chil­dren were in­doc­tri­nated and brain­washed to be­lieve that these is­lands be­long to them; so much so that when these kids grew old and took con­trol of their govern­ment they launched the of­fen­sive and oc­cu­pied these lands. Be­cause of years of in­doc­tri­na­tion, they felt that they were do­ing these based on moral grounds.

So how do we fight a su­per power whose present lead­er­ship and its fol­low­ers com­mit­ted these bel­liger­ent acts based on moral grounds? Well, the an­swer is: only through moral grounds.

We too, there­fore, must be will­ing to care­fully craft our moves for the next eighty to one hun­dred years in or­der to get these is­lands back. We must en­gage with the new gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese youth in au­then­tic ways and man­ners that would sum­mon their self-re­spect­ing val­ues, ap­peal­ing to them not by sub­servience or ca­pit­u­la­tion, but by moral rea­son.

The present minds of this gen­er­a­tion, yours and mine, can­not fully com­pre­hend the full mea­sure and power of the UNCLOS de­ci­sion to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Yet, to­gether with [the book The South China Sea Dis­pute: Philip­pine Sov­er­eign Rights and Ju­ris­dic­tion in The West

Philip­pine Sea] of Jus­tice Car­pio, that UNCLOS de­ci­sion pro­vides am­mu­ni­tion to the real and more defin­ing bat­tles of to­mor­row: bat­tles that can only be won on stronger and more au­then­tic moral grounds.

ESQ: Is there sig­nif­i­cance to hav­ing an ac­tual, phys­i­cal map in an era of post-truth, fake news and Face­book ma­nip­u­la­tion?

MV: Enor­mous sig­nif­i­cance. In [this era], au­then­tic­ity be­comes the rarest of as­sets, the most pow­er­ful tool of so­cial in­flu­ence. We have in our hands a most au­then­tic map that can de­bunk post-truths, fake news and any Face­book ma­nip­u­la­tion.

The ``mother of all Philip­pine maps” was bought for al­most P13 mil­lion from Sotheby’s Lon­don.

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